Family Tragedy Averted; No CO Detectors Found

OCEAN CITY – A carbon monoxide leak that reportedly originated in the heating system of a pool could land a downtown condominium building in some hot water.

The investigation of a carbon monoxide leak at the El Capitan, located on the Boardwalk at 4th Street, that sent a family of six to the hospital last Thursday evening determined that the building did not have the required carbon monoxide detectors in the building, thus potentially putting El Capitan in violation of town ordinance. Consequently, according to the law, the property owner is facing fines of up to $1,000 per day.

Ocean City Fire Marshal and Deputy Chief Sam Vallani said via email that levels of carbon monoxide were detected in other areas of the first floor other than just unit 106, where the family had been staying and the call originated from.

“An ordinance requires carbon monoxide detectors in certain instances in multi-family units, and the city also has an ordinance enforced by the building inspectors office that requires detectors in all occupied units,” said Vallani. “However, the El Capitan had no functioning Carbon Monoxide detectors in the area of investigation.”

City Solicitor Guy Ayres said that the 2007 amendment to Chapter 34 of the city code, which clearly defines “multi-family dwelling unit”, which El Capitan falls under, and fuel burning equipment, (the condominium has a pool and a first floor restaurant), as stipulations for which a building would be required to have detectors directly above and adjacent to the areas of the fuel burning equipment.

“If they were found to be in violation, it would be defined as a municipal infraction and be charged up to $1,000 per day,” he said.

Ayres also went on to say that the 2007 ordinance gave property owners 24 months to install carbon monoxide detectors if they were eligible for compliance.  However, the 24-month grace period of sorts came and went on Feb. 5 of this year, since the ordinance went into effect February 5, 2007.

According to the report conducted by the Fire Marshal’s Office, the leak originated in the basement of the El Capitan in the pool room, as the Ray Pak 2100 gas-fired pool heater was found to be the “only carbon monoxide producing device in the building that could not be ruled out as the possible cause.”

The creation of the 2007 ordinance stemmed from a June 2006 carbon monoxide leak at the Days Inn in Ocean City, that killed a Pennsylvania man and his 10-year-old daughter, which prompted a $30 million lawsuit that was later settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.

In the 2006 incident, the leak was determined to stem from a dislodged exhaust pipe in the hot water heater that also sat in the basement of the building.  The odorless gas, which has been dubbed “the silent killer,” seeped into several rooms on the first floor, which brought paramedics to the scene, but unfortunately as they were attending to other victims, they were unable to get to the deceased until it was too late.

Fortunately, the El Capitan carbon monoxide leak had a much happier ending as the family of six were treated and released from Atlantic General Hospital on Thursday night.

The most recent occurrence could cause a citywide crack down of the rule, which creates an arduous task to enforce to make sure that tens of thousands of units in Ocean City are in compliance.

The Ocean City Fire Department also determined that the Ray Pak 2100 heating unit was improperly ventilated, but after fumigating the building, the investigators deemed the building suitable for occupancy.

According to state records, El Capitan is owned and operated by the El Capitan Condominium Association. Mann Properties owner Buck Mann, who manages the building, said individual unit owners are responsible for installing the carbon monoxide detectors. Since the origin is believed to be in a common area, Mann said it would fall under the association’s responsibility. Mann reported a thorough investigation of the building’s units is expected to be conducted by the city today.